Post-primary schools must step up their efforts to provide a broad range of subject choices for every child, according to Education Minister Caitriona Ruane.
Guaranteeing all children access to a wide range of courses at GCSE and A-level will be a statutory requirement from 2013 under the Entitlement Framework.
In many areas this will have to involve stronger co-operation between schools and colleges.
In a keynote speech to educationalists in the Titanic Pump House yesterday, the Minister warned: “From today, I am spelling out to all post-primary schools that I want to see a change in pace, a stepping up of efforts.
“All schools will be required to demonstrate how they will effectively deliver the Entitlement Framework and seek to maximise choice for children in the future — I want to ensure their plans are not only robust but will deliver a high quality learning experience.”
She also said that the quality of teaching in Northern Ireland is “less than we might expect” and said that schools will be challenged by the new Education and Skills Authority and inspectors to succeed.
“Schools will get the support they need to improve performance but will be expected to deliver and will be held accountable for their outcomes,” she said.
The Minister said that the education system here is currently letting too many people down.
“Contrary to what some people think, albeit a decreasing minority, we do not have a world class education system,” she said.
“A system that perpetuates the gap in achievement between our most disadvantaged and our most affluent pupils is far from world class. We need to change. Change now. Change radically.
“Despite the best efforts of many, our education system is let
ting too many children down — 4,500 are leaving primary school without basic literacy and numeracy skills and by the end of post-primary, almost 11,000 leave school without five good GSCEs including literacy and maths. This cannot continue.”
Referring to the independent entrance tests being set by 68 schools this year, she said: “I would again urge the breakaway grammar schools to reconsider their position.
“No child should have to face the trauma of testing at 10 or 11 to access an education system that every child is entitled to.
“The 11-plus is now gone and the curriculum is delivered on a statutory basis and will not be distorted or bent to serve the needs of a few breakaway schools.”
During her speech, the Minister referred to the ‘Together towards Entitlement’ report which is soon to be published by the Area Based Planning Group chaired by Adeline Dinsmore.
Area-planning aims to provide a schools estate to match the educational needs of local communities so that children do not have to travel many miles on buses to get to school each day.
“I will soon be able to publish the area-based planning report which sets out a road map to delivering a better, more equitable post-primary education system that will serve the needs of all our young people,” Ms Ruane said.
A central tenet of the report is the idea of a ‘forum for engagement’ which would be the mechanism for bringing all sectors and interests together to plan for the needs of all young people in an area.